It’s December and that means two things; the holidays and reflecting on the past year. This September marked the passing of Mr. Naperville, Mayor A. George Pradel. Most of my peers and I, however, remember him as Officer Friendly.
Mayor Pradel loved Naperville like no one else. A lifelong resident, he knew everyone in town. My grandmother’s younger sister had a lifelong friendship with the Mayor – he would always ask me how she and her family were doing.
From 1977-1995, Mayor Pradel bonded with Naperville’s “new” generation, visiting schools and teaching safety as Officer Friendly. The Mayor had the gift of charisma and likeability – even in my “too cool for school” junior high years, everyone remembered Officer Friendly fondly.
In 1995 Officer Friendly became The Mayor, a post he held for 20 years. I capitalize The Mayor, because that is what Mayor Pradel became; the mayor synonymous with Naperville. Even after Mayor Pradel stepped down in 2015, when someone in town said “the mayor” you had to ask, “Which one?”
As an adult, I would always chat with The Mayor for a few minutes whenever I saw him. If you knew Mayor Pradel, you’d know this was not special treatment – he made time for everyone.
He tried to “steal” ribs from me multiple times over the years while I was working at Ribfest. He came in the store with his wife to test out mobility scooters (driving a little recklessly for a former police officer, I might add). He lived right down the street from several of my friends and would always wave and say hello as we biked by.
As Naperville’s greatest promoter and advocate, however, The Mayor will always live on in spirit with everyone who knew him, everyone he inspired. And that is a gift we don’t have to wait for the Christmas to get.
Did I mention that The Mayor was also Santa Claus?